Reviews, Young Adult Review

IF THESE WINGS COULD FLY and A Few Other Books You Should Read

Last week was a little crazy for my kids so I gave them a week off of reviewing, but I do hope to have a series review from my sixth grader next Monday. However, he will officially finish sixth grade this Thursday, so now I’m wondering if that means I have to start calling him a seventh grader. What do you think?

In any case, I have several young adult books to share with you this week. It’s quite a mix of serious and lighthearted contemporary, along with a historical mystery. I hope you find something you’d like to read!


If These Wings Could Fly by Kyrie McCauleyDo you tend toward lighthearted or serious books? I definitely prefer to laugh and in general shy away from books I fear could bring on tears. The exception is when I know the author—and it turns out a lot of my writer friends like to tackle serious topics!

IF THESE WINGS COULD FLY by fellow #PitchWars17 mentee Kyrie McCauley is yet another example of why it’s so important to read books outside your normal comfort zone.

The book is set in small-town Pennsylvania, which is being invaded by tens of thousands of crows. They don’t bother seventeen-year-old Leighton, who already lives in a house that inexplicably repairs itself every time her father loses his temper and breaks things. She’s focused on finishing out her senior year and deciding whether going away to college is worth leaving her sisters. While her father’s rage and the crows both increase, Leighton allows herself to get close to her charming classmate Liam. (Note that Kyrie includes a content warning on her website that the book includes realistic depictions of domestic violence that may be disturbing for some readers.)

Yes, this book tackles the very serious topic of domestic violence. It addresses how both the characters experiencing it and those who know about it—or suspect—respond, which is a very important conversation to have. It’s something we should be thinking about and aware of. So, yes, it’s hard, but if it’s a topic you can handle, then it’s worth reading.

But IF THESE WINGS COULD FLY is much more than an issue book. There’s sisterhood with all of its complications, first love with its mix of confusion and exhilaration, and a girl finding her internal strength. PLUS, there are the crows, which I’m not even sure exactly how to describe. There’s a sense of magic to the crows and yet Leighton also finds scientific explanations for much of what they do. It’s fascinating. Both the crows and the house are rich metaphors throughout the book.

I’m so glad I read this book and will be continuing to think about it. I definitely recommend it, with the caveat about the content if that may be an issue. What a powerful read!

I’ve been making a more concerted effort this year to read books by debut authors, and THE SILENCE OF BONES by June Hur is one that caught my attention early on. Set in 1800 in Joseon (Korea), the story follows 16-year-old Seol, indentured to the police bureau as a damo. She must assist a well-respected young inspector investigating the murder of a noblewoman. She forms an unlikely friendship with the inspector, but when he becomes the chief suspect, she might be the only one who can discover the truth—a challenging prospect in a time and place where a young girl is expected to be silent and obedient.

I’m always intrigued by a good mystery, but this book had the added element of a setting I’d never experienced before. I’ve read a lot of historical, but never in this specific part of the world. It was both interesting and frustrating to read Seol’s experiences. In addition to the investigation, Seol had a separate goal—to find her brother, who had left home a decade before and never returned. The two stories kept weaving together in unexpected ways. And the investigation itself ended up twisting in a number of directions, exploring both personal and political relationships. At times the book was quite harsh to read, but it was also very well done. I really enjoyed how well everything all fit together and the final resolution.


Moment of Truth by Kasie WestI read MOMENT OF TRUTH by Kasie West in less than 24 hours. It’s no surprise, since I’m a huge Kasie West fan and basically love every book she writes.

It’s about 16-year-old Hadley Moore, whose whole life is dedicated to swimming. And the story starts off with an important meet being disrupted by a guy dressed up as a Hollywood action hero crashing it. This masked hero has made a habit of going around town performing crazy stunts, but it’s the first time he’s messed with her. So of course she makes it her mission to discover who he is.

I really enjoyed the mystery of the masked character—and the eventual solution (which I totally figured out way before Hadley did). But as with all of Kasie West’s books, what I enjoyed most was the friendship, family, and love story. Hadley had a lot of self-discovery to go through in this story, and it wasn’t an easy path for her to follow. I’m also a sucker for a jokester love interest, but that’s all I want to say about that since even the description doesn’t say much about the love interest 😉.

I think I am STILL behind on Kasie West’s books. But hey, it’s something to aspire to as a writer—that readers can’t keep up!


What I Like About You by Marisa KanterI’ve wanted to read WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU by Marisa Kanter ever since I read the description and sample in PitchWars in 2017. It’s so gratifying when a book delivers on the premise, and this one totally does. I read the whole thing in a single day, while my family was participating in an at-home camping trip. I definitely belonged inside with a book while they were cycling 15 miles in the rain and camping in the front yard!

The premise of WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU is that three years ago Halle Levitt created a pseudonym when she started her cupcake-themed book blog. None of her online friends—including best friend Nash—know her true identity. When she moves in with her grandpa for senior year, she meets Nash in real life but is too scared to tell him who she is, embroiling herself in a love triangle with herself.

I really enjoyed how Halle grew during the story, learning what it means to be a friend and also working through her grief (a major plot involves the fairly recent death of her grandmother). Also, the take on books was really interesting. I’d love to see one of these cupcake cover recreations!


THE PERFECT ESCAPE by Suzanne Park truly was the perfect escape from all the craziness in the world. It’s about Nate Kim, a Korean-American teen who works at a zombie-themed escape room, and Kate Anderson, an aspiring teen actress with an over-controlling dad. Together, they team up for a survivalist competition for a huge cash prize.

I’m always up for a zombie story—real or imagined—and this one delivered. But it also dealt with a number of real-life family issues for both characters. They come from very different worlds, and yet they share a love for zombies and campy jokes, and their survival skills are the perfect complement for each other. Their love story isn’t an easy one, but it feels real. I really appreciated the resolution for everyone involved.


I just realized that four of these are 2020 debut books and two are PitchWars 2017 classmates! I can’t afford to buy every book I’d like to, but I’m trying to support other authors however I can during these times. I hope you are too!

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM Fourth Grader Review: THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM by Sarah Beth Durst

My sixth grader spent last week reading The Hunger Games trilogy, which isn’t really a fit for MMGM, so I recruited my fourth grader once again. One of the good things that has happened during stay-at-home orders is the availability of online content from authors. On April 9, a group of authors celebrated International Unicorn Day with live readings and interactive events. My daughter participated in several of these and has since discovered four new authors. Sarah Beth Durst is one of those, and here is my daughter’s review of THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM.


The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth DurstSophie’s favorite place in the world is the hidden shop beneath her parent’s bookstore where dreams are bought and sold to select and secretive strangers. Sophie is fascinated by dreams — weird, scary, or magical — in part because she has never had a single dream of her own.

When the shop’s dreams are stolen and her mother and father go mysteriously missing, Sophie must unravel the truth to save her parents. Together with her best friend — a wisecracking and fanatically loyal monster named Monster — she must decide who to trust with her family’s carefully-guarded secrets. Who will help them, and who will betray them?

THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM is a story that takes place in a shop and a house. The main character, Sophie, lives there in the shop, and there is a house in the upper levels. In the house, they go on an adventure. The setting is important. I like how the setting is not all over the place, there are two main settings. The shop and the house. Dun dun daaaaa!!!! (Mysterious music plays.)

Sophie is cautious and smart, yet also very brave. Sophie will face things that some kids do not know about. Sophie’s friend, Monster, is a monster. He is protective and funny. He is probably my favorite character. The people in this story are amazing!!!

The story overall is awesome. It involves action, fights, monsters and friends. I could go on about what awesome things it has. I would recommend this book. It made me fall in love with the characters and the friends. If you like all the things I listed, you will like this book. I loved it!! (This is when everybody reads this book.)


Ha! Is this when you go read the book? I hope so!

To learn about other middle grade books, visit the Marvelous Middle Grade blog hop at Always in the Middle…

Quick Tip, Writing

What Day Is it? In Your MS, Not Real Life

As soon as I titled this post, I realized how often I ask myself that question right now. The days definitely do blend together. It helps that May is a big birthday month for my family. We had two in the first week, and my daughter is now counting down the days to her 10th birthday (double digits!!), so that helps us keep track of what day it is. But it would be easy to let one day drift into another when each one seems the same.

That can also be true in a manuscript, and I’ve discovered a few different tricks to track the time, depending on what the manuscript needs. Because how many days have passed is more important in some manuscripts than others. So here are a few ways I make sure I don’t lose track while I’m writing.

Use A Real Calendar!

I always use an actual calendar as my starting point. If you’re writing historical, then you can look up the calendar for that specific year. If you’re writing contemporary and aren’t sure what year the book will publish, choose a year a couple into the future. Unless the year is important (like in my debut, as it jumps from one specific year to another), it’s unlikely it will even be mentioned, so the most important thing is that your days don’t repeat or skip. As much as we’d all love to have three Saturdays in a row… wait, that doesn’t work so much anymore, does it?

Even if you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, if your book still follows our calendar, it would be helpful to just pick a year and use it as a reference. You can use the calendar on your phone/laptop, or you can go to an online resource like www.timeanddate.com, which will show you a calendar for a whole year.

Make a Timeline!

I’ve done this at different points and to varying degrees with different manuscripts. I have one manuscript where the dates are very important, not only for the passage of time but because of what’s happening in the world on those dates. So for that manuscript, I have a separate ongoing timeline document that I update as I’m writing to ensure scenes are happening when they need to. One of my favorite Scrivener features is the ability to use split screen while writing. I have used this feature while brainstorming, to ensure my timeline matches up with all the scenes I’m planning, and also while drafting, to check that I’m still on track with where the characters need to be in time. It’s super helpful! (I was going to include a picture, but it would give away too much about this project 😉.)

Use a Date Calculator!

There might be a case where you need to know how many days have passed since a certain date. For example, your character is marking the days since an important event, like a birthday, death, or wedding. Or counting down to it, like my daughter 😀. There are sites where you can input dates and it will tell you how many days have passed. If you want to get really technical, the date-to-date calculator on Timeanddate.com will even give you the minutes and seconds.

Extra Scrivener tip: If I’m using these resources repeatedly in a manuscript, I import the web page into my Scrivener file under Research.

Those are just a few tools I use to make sure my characters don’t end up losing a week or going to school an extra day somewhere in the manuscript.

Do you have any other tips on managing time within your manuscripts?

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM Fourth Grader Review: GHOST SQUAD by Claribel Ortega

Last week I promised a review by my fourth grader, and I’m excited she’s here to talk about GHOST SQUAD by Claribel Ortega. The book just released April 7, and we ordered it from our local independent bookstore. Side note: if you haven’t already entered the giveaway for my 8th blogiversary, it’s still open through this Friday, May 8. You can win a $50 gift card to the independent bookstore of your choice. They really need our support!

But now I’m going to hand the blog over to my fourth grader for this week’s MMGM review.


Ghost Squad by Claribel OrtegaCoco meets Stranger Things with a hint of Ghostbusters in this action-packed supernatural fantasy.

For Lucely Luna, ghosts are more than just the family business.

Shortly before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late.

I really like the book GHOST SQUAD. It is adventurous, it has action, and amazing characters!! It is so fun to read and it feels like you are actually there. The first thing I am going to talk about today is the setting. It takes place in a small town. In it the main characters, Lucely and Syd, go to cemeteries, school and so many other places!! The setting is an important part.

Next I will be talking about the characters: Lucely, Syd, Babette, Chunk and Simon.  Syd is fun and brave. She is also so happy; I like that. Lucely is cautious and kind. She is a very good friend. Babette is just the type of character that you love–she is strict, yet awesome. Chunk is a cat, a cat that goes on adventures with Lucely and Syd. Simon is a loving dad, and he believes in ghosts. These are character traits of some of the characters.

If you like books that have action, ghosts and awesome characters, then you will like GHOST SQUAD!! It is a fantastic book with magic and imagination! It is one of the best books I have read! GHOST SQUAD is something that I would recommend reading. I hope you will read GHOST SQUAD, and let me tell you, you will not be disappointed, I was not. It is awesome.


So there you have it. I’m not sure which kid reviewer I’ll be featuring next week. We’ll see who is most enthusiastic about what they’ve read this week!

Blogging

My 8th Blogiversary! With An Indie Bookstore Giveaway!

Tomorrow marks eight years of blogging for me, but I’m just going to celebrate today since I’ll be busy with weekend activities then. (Yes, I do know which day it is 🤣.) I wasn’t quite as active with the blog during the second half of 2019 due to a lot of life happenings, but since we’ve all been at home, I’ve started posting more again.

When I first started this blog, I was writing middle grade, and it was my main focus. I’ve since switched to young adult, so I don’t read as much middle grade anymore. However, my kids are now MG readers, and with us all home together, I’ve been including them in the review process. It’s great to still have a middle grade presence here on the blog through my actual middle grade readers! I post most of my YA reviews on Instagram these days and then compile them here as summaries. The content on this blog has evolved with my writing and commitments, but I think that’s the nature of things.

My book release is getting much closer! So in the coming year, you can expect a lot more information about my winter 2021 release, YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED.

I enjoy commemorating this blogiversary every year and pulling together statistics. It’s fun looking back and seeing how visitors have interacted with the blog. Even if you don’t find it as interesting as I do, stick around to the end for this year’s giveaway!

On to my annual statistics.

Top 10 Posts Published in the Past Year

10. After the Book Deal: All the Doubts – I haven’t put very many writing updates on the blog in the past year, but I did include an honest post in October about the doubts I experienced when the book deal started to feel real.

9. MG Review: WINTERBORNE HOME FOR VENGEANCE AND VALOR by Ally Carter – While I just said that I don’t read a ton of middle grade anymore, there are some exceptions, and Ally Carter writing a middle grade is definitely an exception! St. Louis was the first stop on her tour for this book, so we got to see her before stay-at-home orders starting going into effect. Both my son and I loved the book.

8. YA Review: SCARS LIKE WINGS by Erin Stewart – My editor sent me an ARC of this book from BEA last year (let’s all be sad just a moment that it won’t be happening this year). I was a little hesitant to read SCARS LIKE WINGS because I tend to shy away from books I’m afraid could make me cry, but it was such a fantastic read.

7. MMGM Sixth Grader Review: MY LIFE AS A POTATO by Arianne Costner – Once stay-at-home orders began, I decided my sixth grader should take over middle grade reviews on my blog, and the next three entries on this list are proof people are reading his reviews!

6. MMGM Sixth Grader Review: THE CHANGELINGS by Christina Soontornvat

5. MMGM Sixth Grader Review: A WISH IN THE DARK by Christina Soontornvat

4. YA Interview & Giveaway: ACROSS A BROKEN SHORE by Amy Trueblood – Set in 1930s San Francisco, this sophomore book by one of my critique partners is a fantastic read about a young woman who longs to be a doctor but whose family expects her to become a nun.

3. Happy 7th Blogiversary to Me! With a mystery signed book giveaway! – Maybe people do like my statistics? Or probably just the giveaway 😉.

2. MMGM Interview & Giveaway: THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN by Krista Van Dolzer – Krista Van Dolzer is actually part of the reason I started this blog. She was one of the mentors for The Writers Voice contest in 2012, which required entrants to post their sample on a blog. So thanks, Krista! We have since become friends and critique partners, and I adore this book about math camp.

1. MMGM Interview & Giveaway: MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM by Rajani LaRocca – This is another middle grade book I just had to read last year, combining Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with baking. It was one of my favorite reads in 2019, and if you haven’t read it yet, you should!

Top 10 Posts/Pages of All Time

When I first started this blog, I wrote a middle grade review every week, so it’s fitting that several of those posts have stood the test of time.

10. MMGM: THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE – The second book in a popular middle grade series.

9. MMGM: ONCE UPON THE END by James Riley – Here’s another MG author for whom I will always make an exception. His books are hilarious and awesome.

8. Subjectivity and Why You Should Get Multiple Opinions – I wrote this post in 2013, and it is continually in my top ten. It’s a great reminder that we all need feedback to make our work the best it can be!

7. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth – A popular series. I’m still baffled by those movies 🤔.

6. MMGM: SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF – This book is the first in an eighteen-book middle grade mystery series. I’ve read several of them but haven’t quite gotten through them all. They’re really great!

5. About – Seeing that people are visiting this page makes me really glad I just updated it 😀.

4. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener – This post is listed on a Scrivener site somewhere and so continues to receive many visits. I do love my Scrivener!

3. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read – The post that started my page listing middle grade and young adult books agents represent (see No. 2).

2. MG/YA Agents & Their Books – When I was researching agents, I found it helpful to know what books they represented. I still maintain this page for writers who may benefit from that same information. 

1. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon – Four years ago this past January, my friend and former colleague Ashley passed away unexpectedly. I wrote this post as my own tribute to her, and I’m glad people continue to read about her here and honor her memory.

In previous years, I’ve included stats on searches as well, but WordPress doesn’t give as much information anymore, so it’s not very fun. Oh well.

Let’s move on to the giveaway! I’ve been supporting my local independent bookstore with regular orders over the past couple months, but I’d love to support others. So I will be giving away a $50 gift card to the independent bookstore of the winner’s choice. To enter, leave a comment below or click on the Rafflecopter link for additional entries. The giveaway will end at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, May 8.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

NOTE: This giveaway has ended.

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM Sixth Grader Review: THE PECULIAR by Stefan Bachmann

My sixth grader has returned with another MMGM review this week–Stefan Bachmann’s THE PECULIAR. And next week, I will for sure have a review from my fourth grader. She’s almost finished with a debut middle grade book she’s loving and plans to review. But first, I’ll let my sixth grader tell you about this fantasy middle grade.


The Peculiar by Stefan BachmannDon’t get yourself noticed and you won’t get yourself hanged.

In the faery slums of Bath, Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie live by these words. Bartholomew and Hettie are changelings—Peculiars—and neither faeries nor humans want anything to do with them.

One day a mysterious lady in a plum-colored dress comes gliding down Old Crow Alley. Bartholomew watches her through his window. Who is she? What does she want? And when Bartholomew witnesses the lady whisking away, in a whirling ring of feathers, the boy who lives across the alley—Bartholomew forgets the rules and gets himself noticed.

First he’s noticed by the lady in plum herself, then by something darkly magical and mysterious, by Jack Box and the Raggedy Man, by the powerful Mr. Lickerish . . . and by Arthur Jelliby, a young man trying to slip through the world unnoticed, too, and who, against all odds, offers Bartholomew friendship and a way to belong.

One of the things I like about THE PECULIAR is that the main character was very relatable. He was Peculiar, so it made him different from everyone else, but it still made you feel his fear and nervousness, even if you’ve never been an outsider. Bartholomew was always thinking about how he could save his sister and how he could help everyone and stop them from dying. I understood where he was coming from and why he did what he did.

Also, I liked how it was set in a world so unlike what we live in. The place was full of diverse people, but you see their individual needs and how the government could probably help. The setting was polluted and full of weird things that added a uniqueness that is hard to find. It took me away to a place that seems so different but it feels real.

Even more so, I liked how the author plotted out the story to have an ever-twisting plot. There were some times where it was as different as left and right. At the beginning I would have been thinking it was left, while the whole time it was right.

So, in the end, THE PECULIAR was an amazing read, and, like last time, I will give you no spoilers.

Reviews, Young Adult Review

10 BLIND DATES and A Few Other YA Books You Should Read

I intended to have another MMGM this week–this time from my fourth grader–but some other school work took precedence, and my sixth grader didn’t have another one prepared to jump in. However, I’ve been catching up on my own reading and realized I’d piled up quite a few mini-reviews. So here are a few young adult books I really loved. If you’d like to see these reviews as I post them, you can follow me on Instagram at @michelleimason.


10 Blind Dates by Ashley ElstonI’ve been intending to read 10 BLIND DATES by Ashley Elston for months. I finally started it last week—and finished it within a day. The story’s about Sophie, who stays home from Christmas break to be with her boyfriend—only he breaks up with her. Her huge family decides to console her by setting her up on 10 blind dates (giving her Christmas Eve and Day off). I was already on board from this setup alone, but here are the five things I loved best about it.

1. The dates! From participating in a nativity to bowling in costume, these dates were hilarious and sometimes cringe-worthy. I loved how creative they were and couldn’t wait to see what the family members would come up with next.
2. The guys – I half-expected every guy picked out to be awful, but that wasn’t the case at all (I mean, some were). It was a really great representation of different types of guys.
3. The love interest – If you pick up this book, the description does not give anything away about who she ends up with, so I won’t here either, but the chemistry was fantastic.
4. Sophie’s family – So crazy but also wonderful. Also, I really loved the dynamic with her cousins and how she regained her closeness with them throughout the book.
5. Sophie’s sister – There was a more serious side plot going on with Sophie’s sister on bedrest, about to have a baby. I think sometimes writers are afraid to include a serious note in a romantic comedy, but it added a really great balance to the story. After all, that’s how life is.

So, that’s my take on 10 BLIND DATES, a thoroughly enjoyable and quick read. If you’ve read it too, let me know your thoughts!


Lovely War by Julie BerryI really enjoyed the unique storytelling of LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry. It’s a YA historical with a fantastical twist, told from the viewpoints of Aphrodite and other Greek gods. Interestingly, the gods are in the time of World War II, looking back on two love stories from World War I. Hazel, a shy pianist, meets James, an aspiring architect, right before he ships off for the front. Aubrey, a talented jazz musician and part of an all African-American regiment, meets YMCA volunteer Colette, who has lost her entire family and first love to German brutality. I loved the short chapters and back and forth between the gods debating the importance of love, war, and music versus the actual stories of these young people living through an unspeakable time.

Every one of these characters was compelling. I was drawn to their stories and hoping they would have happy endings, even while I expected the worst in a brutal war that took so many lives. I really appreciated how this story was told and highly recommend it.


I kept seeing this book all over Instagram, and the title alone was enough to make me want to read it. I’m a total sucker for clever titles. But then I read the description, and TWEET CUTE by Emma Lord is basically like YOU’VE GOT MAIL.

Pepper runs her family fast food chain’s Twitter account, and when the chain steals Jack’s family deli’s grilled cheese recipe, he engages in a Twitter war with her. Meanwhile, at school, they’ve never gotten along, but start getting to know each other and maybe even fall for each other. Add in an anonymous app they’re talking to each other on, which the reader is clued into.

I seriously couldn’t put this book down. I read it in a single day, despite currently drafting a book, starting eLearning with my kids, and everything else that goes with all of us being home. So that should tell you something about this book. It’s smart, fun, fast-paced, and a great escape from the anxiety and worry around us. Check it out!


I read the first book in this series, A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY, last year and loved it. I loved this one even more.

I found it interesting that with the exception of a couple of brief chapters, this book is written from two completely different points of view, leaving the reader wondering what’s happening with the two original characters. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I was quickly drawn into the stories of Grey and Lia Mara. They are both incredibly well-developed characters facing really tough choices. But I also really appreciated the secondary characters. With a couple of them, I wasn’t sure whether I should be rooting for them too or not. I was turning pages quickly to find out!

But really, in general I was turning pages quickly to get to the end of this book. I was reading this at a time when I had very little reading time due to other commitments, and this book made me snatch time whenever I could to find out what would happen next. I was so worried the characters would make the wrong decisions—and that they might not have any other options. The stakes are so well done. I can’t wait for the finale. Well done, Brigid Kemmerer!
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Also, super excited this book is from my publisher, Bloomsbury 😍.


I love getting so sucked into a book that I read it long into the night, which is what happened to me with THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE by Cynthia Hand. There was one night I had 100 pages left at 11:15 and almost went for it. But I do have kids to wrangle in the mornings :).

I read this book right before Christmas, and it was a perfect read during that time. A Scrooge retelling, it follows Holly Chase, who was visited five years ago by the three Ghosts and didn’t mend her ways, so she died. Ever since, she’s been working for Project Scrooge as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past, and she stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on without her. She’s pretty miserable, until the latest Scrooge is unveiled as a seventeen-year-old boy with a story very similar to her own and she embarks on a quest to make sure he doesn’t make the same mistake she did.

I loved how Cynthia Hand approached this retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, updating it for a modern audience. Holly was an interesting character to me because she wasn’t very likable for much of the book—but then, she was a Scrooge, so that makes sense. Her character arc is what makes this book great. One of the reasons I couldn’t put the book down was that I wasn’t sure how it would all end, but I finished it satisfied. Even though the holidays are now over, I still highly recommend this book. If you aren’t up for reading off-season, grab it and hold on until this December!

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review

MMGM Sixth Grader Review: THE CHANGELINGS by Christina Soontornvat

Yes, you read that right–I have another review of a Christina Soontornvat book this week. I’m going to just turn this completely over to my sixth grader today instead of quoting his review, but first, I’ll explain that we met Christina last year at OMG BookFest, and he picked up a signed copy of THE CHANGELINGS. He always has a row of about 20 new books waiting to be read because books are all he asks for at Christmas and his birthday, but he loves to go back and re-read books. So even though he reads 4-5 books a week, probably 3-4 of those are re-reads. Anyway, after reading A WISH IN THE DARK, he pulled out THE CHANGELINGS, and here is his review. Everything below the line is from him 😀.


I loved The Changelings. The Changelings is my favorite book I’ve read this month. Here is the preview…

The Changelings by Christina SoontornvatAll Izzy wants is for something interesting to happen in her sleepy little town. But her wish becomes all too real when a mysterious song floats through the woods and lures her little sister Hen into the forest…where she vanishes. A frantic search leads to a strange hole in the ground that Izzy enters. But on the other side, she discovers that the hole was not a hole, this place is not Earth, and Hen is not lost. She’s been stolen away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to bring her home.

But inside Faerie, trouble is brewing-and Izzy is in way over her head. A ragtag group of outlaw Changelings offer to help, but she must decide whether a boulder that comes to life, a girl who looks like a ghost, and a boy who is also a stag can help her save Hen before it’s too late.

That sounds exciting… Doesn’t it? Well it gets better. I couldn’t put it down. Izzy as a character is amazing. She starts out wanting/needing adventure more than anything else. But when her sister goes missing, well, that quote on the cover just about sums it up: “Everything seemed boring…until now.” It causes her to realize how much she can do to help as she mysteriously goes down a hole. Kind of like Alice in Wonderland, right? She grows to realize who she really is.

Another thing that I like about this book is the other characters she meets along the way. She meets a band of rebels, named Lug, Dree, and Selden. They each bring to the story in their own unique way. Lug provides comic relief to the fullest with his ability to make others laugh. Dree gives the story a skeptic so everyone doesn’t go off the rails and ruin what they are doing. She also is a very good friend once Izzy has her trust. Selden is more gruff and mysterious. He keeps everyone from killing themselves. He begins to become more trusting and open. Selden has the best character development of all of them.

And a final thing that I like is the setting. Faerie is magical. It is covered in huge forests, rivers, mountains, and overly large boneyards. (That last part scares me, we aren’t told why it’s there!) But the people are magical too. It’s not that they have magic (though some of them do), but there is almost every fairy creature imaginable. You name it, it’s there.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Changelings. After reading The Changelings, try the next one, In a Dark Land.

See spoilers below:

 

 

YOU ACTUALLY THINK I WAS GOING TO GIVE YOU SPOILERS!?!? NO WAY!!!!

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM Sixth Grader Review: A WISH IN THE DARK by Christina Soontornvat

I’m back with another MMGM review by my sixth grader this week. On March 24, we spent much of the day enjoying the digital launch events for Christina Soontornvat’s A WISH IN THE DARK. She had everything from a sketch-off with Max Brallier (LAST KIDS ON EARTH series) to weird stuff in her house with Stuart Gibbs (SPY SCHOOL and other series). If you’re interested, you can still find those on her YouTube page here. Authors are finding a lot of great ways to connect with readers while everyone’s stuck at home!

I’m actually halfway through the book and really enjoying it myself, but since my son already finished it and he’s the target audience, I’m going to let him do this week’s review again. But first, here’s the cover and description.

A Wish in the Dark by Christina SoontornvatAll light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

So now I’ll turn it over to my sixth grader.

I really liked how A WISH IN THE DARK displayed a fun, magical-ish world that’s nothing like anything we have here. But it has real people with real desires and it feels true.

It has some very good character development. The main character, Pong, was born in a prison, and the main leader there believes “Trees drop their fruit straight down” so children have to stay in the prison until they’re 13. Pong knew that was unfair and started out always protesting, but he developed into a more mature character. He learns how to focus on fixing the things he can.

There’s also the other main character, Nok, who is from one of the rich families. Her dad is the warden of the prison that Pong is in. She doesn’t see the unfairness of the rules because her family is wealthy and the rules were made by those families. So before Pong fully develops into his character, he escapes, and Nok starts trying to track him down. She goes from being kind of inflexible with the rules to realizing some things aren’t fair and that some families can’t do anything else. She realizes she needs to fight back too.

I really liked the setting. It happens in this world full of different lights and canals. It’s definitely different from the cities we have, but there’s also other places that are peaceful villages and temples up in the mountain. It’s a good mix of fun and peaceful, and the description is very good.

From what I’ve read so far, I second all of his points. The description is fantastic, and I’m really enjoying the characters. So definitely check this book out!

Since my son averages four to five books every week and has extra time on his hands at the moment, I’ll probably have another one of these for you next week–unless my fourth grader decides she wants in on it 😉.

Writing

It Is Finished! My Longest Draft Ever

Hey, friends! So, it’s been a really long time since I’ve posted an update about my writing. I looked back through my posts and found one about revising YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED from October, and then there was one about how I tried pantsing a book last summer. (That sounds really strange if you aren’t a writer, but the writers DO know what I mean 😉.)

Anyway, that book I was writing last summer? I ended up setting it aside because I just couldn’t figure out what to do with it. I do intend to go back to it, but sometimes you just need some distance. What this means is that for the first time in quite a while, I went more than a year without finishing a draft. In fact, the last time I finished a first draft was May 2018, when I finished writing YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED. Of course, I have done a lot of revising on that in the meantime 😀.

Last September, while I was still trying to figure out that other project, I had an idea for a new one and jotted down a few thoughts. Over the next couple of months, I added more ideas for it, and in December, I decided to sit down and draft for real. For me, this means setting an end deadline in Scrivener that gives me daily word count goals. Generally, I set my deadline so that I’m writing about 1,800 words per day.

I know many people find it hard to create in an anxious or stressful environment. For me, the best way to cope with anxiety and stress is to have goals. As much as I hate drafting, it gives me focus, and I’ve needed that for the past several months. As I already shared here on the blog, in early December, my best friend suffered a massive brain bleed while on vacation. Her family has shared her story and updates on a GoFundMe page here. At the end of December, she was transported back to Missouri, and I was able to start visiting her at the hospital. I wrote a significant portion of this book sitting in her hospital room, sometimes brainstorming ideas with family members or talking aloud to her, even when she was sleeping. With COVID-19, I can’t visit her right now (she moved to a rehab hospital a few weeks ago), but she’s still on my mind constantly.

And then there’s COVID-19 itself. Everyone in my family has stayed healthy so far. My kids have been home from school since March 13, and my husband started working from home a week ago. It’s a change for all of us to be here together, but we’ve gotten into a pretty good routine. It’s definitely a blessing that my kids are old enough to manage most of their school on their own. But I’d be lying if I didn’t think initially about how having everyone here might affect my drafting momentum. I had decided at the beginning of March to step it up to 2,000 words per day, despite what Scrivener was telling me, and I was able to stick to that, even with everyone here, plus overseeing eLearning and general anxiety about what’s happening in the world.

So, here I am on April 1 with a finished draft. It’s my longest draft ever at 90,983 words. It’s also messy, as all first drafts are. I’m going to let it sit for a few days, and then I will get back to the part I love most–REVISING!

To celebrate, today we’re going to make cupcakes. Usually I treat myself to a gourmet cupcake as a reward for finishing a draft, but making them ourselves has the added bonus of a family activity 😍.

How are you all doing with your writing? Have you drafted anything new lately? How do you celebrate milestones?